I’ve been gaming for the best part of four decades, but even though I’m long enough in the tooth to have seen all manner of ideas and experiences come and go, there has been one genre that has consistently stayed close to my heart – the racing scene.
From Pitstop and Stunt Car Racer, through Super Cars 2, onto Ridge Racer, Gran Turismo, Project Gotham Racing, dozens of F1 titles and into the best of the best with the Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon titles that light up the modern era, if it’s a racer, I’ve probably played it. And so when Lucky Mountain Games, Sumo Nottingham and Curve Digital announced that they were attempting to revive the arcade racing glory years with Hotshot Racing, I was immediately interested.
And if you’re one of those who constantly harks back to the good old days, you’re going to love what has been produced here. Hotshot Racing really does hammer home the feel of the old classic racers, however there’s a nagging feeling that I just wish they’d gone a bit deeper and provided even more of the brilliant gameplay that is on offer.
Hotshot Racing has been billed as the return to ’90s style arcade racing that us petrolheads have been holding out for, and on the face of it Curve have nailed what is required. With a super minimalist low-poly art style, it immediately drags up memories of years past, drifting, boosting and racing your way to glory, whilst checkpoint and time extension calls are a constant joy to hear. At least when you hit them because just like back in the day, miss that banner by a second and you’ll be cursing your luck.
Things are helped along by the fact that this is one super smooth racer. In fact, I think it’s one of the slickest running titles I’ve played in ages, with the promise of 60 frames per second racing never beyond its capabilities. At all times this is a racer that plays as good as the low-poly visuals look; there is not a single hiccup in terms of what is provided in the racing stakes, with each and every event you partake in turning out to be fast, fluid and utterly furious.
There are a good number of events to involve yourself in too, with a campaign stretching across four different worlds, each of which comes with four track types. No matter whether you are going deep into the Jungle, speeding through Mountain terrains, along the Coast or across the Desert, the tracks included allow for some great racing – with a nifty bit of rubberbanding ensuring that competitors are always close at hand. Throw in a mirrored option for each of the circuits and there is a fair amount to get through. Even more so when you consider that each of the eight drivers come with a garage of four visually customisable cars; again, each of which has its own specific levels of speed, acceleration and drift capabilities.
Hotshot Racing urges you to play as all these drivers and make the most of all the cars too, with specific unlockable customisation options locked down until you start winning races as certain characters, in certain cars. It’s this draw – and that of the Xbox achievement system as a whole – which is able to ensure the game has a strong ‘one more go’ appeal; something that is helped along by the fact that all races are fairly swift, five minute long affairs.
If you’re looking to nail everything that the Hotshot Racing campaign has in store then you’re going to find yourself busy for a good long while. But even when you do find yourself nearing completion, there are other game modes in place to complement it; single races, with standard Arcade events themselves well complemented by a couple of less serious options: Cops & Robbers and Drive or Explode
These are where Hotshot Racing provides some real fun, with Cops & Robbers seeing some racers play out as the cops trying to bust – ie, takedown in any way possible – the other racers, converting them to your cause. It’s a good fun addition that allows those not totally intent on standard timed racing to let off some steam; smashing, bashing and crashing their way to glory.
Alongside that, the Drive or Explode mode is equally as hot – quite literally. This sees you attempting to drive for as long a distance as possible, keeping the health levels of your car high by staying above a specified speed. As you would expect to hear though, that minimum speed keeps increasing, so much so that it doesn’t take long before you’ll be praying you hit checkpoints in order to replenish the health of your vehicle. Fail, crash, or even consider slowing down, and as the name suggests, you’ll find your car turning into a fireball and all dreams of success going up in flames.
There is also the inclusion of Time Trial options to keep the solo player busy, letting them race against different ghosts; taken either from their own best times, that of friends, or anyone else with a leaderboard placement. If you’re one of those keen on climbing leaderboards, this is most definitely for you.
Hotshot Racing isn’t just about the solo racer though and you can also take part in a variety of multiplayer options too. Either available in four player split-screen or eight-player online variants, it lets you take everything present in the solo race structure (one off races, Cops & Robbers, and Drive or Explode) into the multiplayer scene. Thankfully it’s all just as smooth too, with hardly an ounce of lag ever present. If you manage to find some friends frequenting the same piece of tarmac as you in Hotshot Racing, you’ll be in for a good time.
So on the face of it, there’s much to love about Hotshot Racing. But for me, it doesn’t quite go far enough, and there are some omissions that just knock it down a peg or two.
Firstly, there aren’t enough tracks in place, and even though the sixteen included can all be mirrored, doubling the options, I’d have liked to have seen Curve go further, especially when you consider that much of the customisation of each car is locked behind the need to grind away, utilising all characters and each one of their cars. An additional number of tracks would help alleviate any boredom found in those going for full completion of Hotshot Racing.
Secondly, the difficulty needs to be upped slightly. From the get go, anyone who knows their way around a controller will find the ‘normal’ and ‘hard’ races and championships fairly straightforward affairs. In fact, I’ve flown through these with the greatest of ease, taking down every single race with an outright win with little need for any form of panic. It’s only really when moving up to the highest difficulty level – Expert – has Hotshot Racing ever made things difficult. That’s a real shame, as it means two-thirds of the gameplay in place will be relatively simple for many to power through.
And thirdly, for as fun as the multiplayer and online scene is, the creation of championships spanning multiple events – maybe even combining a hosts choice of game modes – is essential. Running one off races before being sent back to a central lobby to go at it again just doesn’t cut it in this modern era of gaming. Let us set up some multi-event championships and the online scene that Hotshot Racing revels in will be all the better for it.
On the whole the basics of the retro arcade racer are utterly nailed by Hotshot Racing on Xbox One. Whilst everything included is of a super high standard and the racing itself is tight, it’s just not testing enough, failing in terms of content and difficulty. For those reasons, I just hope a few little additions and amendments to AI levels and track structures are implemented going forward.